I was on the Melissa Harris-Perry show today, speaking about GMOs. You can see the video at the show's website or embedded below.
First, a statement on my interests: I have no relationship whatsoever with Monsanto or any other ag or biotech company. I hold no Monsanto stock. I get no money from them. Nothing of the sort. My only interest is in advancing public knowledge of a technology that's widely misunderstood and which, when well-managed, can benefit both humanity and the planet. All the research I presented was research I did when writing my book on innovating to save the planet, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet.
I do believe that we'll eventually have labels on genetically modified foods. So long as those labels are in the ingredients section and not needlessly frightening, I think that's fine. Clearly a set of people very much want labels, and the resistance to labeling gives the appearance that there's something to hide with genetically modified foods. There isn't. Genetically modified foods are safe.
Because there wasn't enough time to go into detail on the show, I want to link to statements from the world's most respected scientific bodies and journals on the topic of GMO safety. Here's what they say.
The US National Academy of Sciences
This is the premier scientific body in the United States. They have repeatedly found genetically modified food safe, noting that after billions of meals served, "no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population."
They've also found that genetically engineered crops are kinder to the environment than non-genetically engineered crops. The National Academy of Science’s 2010 report, Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States, found that GM crops planted to date had reduced insecticide use, reduced use of the most dangerous herbicides, increased the frequency of conservation tillage and no-till farming, reduced carbon emissions, reduced soil runoffs, and improved soil quality. The report said that, “Generally, GE (GMO) crops have had fewer adverse effects on the environment than non-GE crops produced conventionally.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science
This is the largest organization made up of professional scientists in the United States, and also publisher of Science magazine, one of the two most respected scientific journals in the world. The AAAS says "The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe."
The American Medical Association
The premier body of physicians in the United States. They have consistently found genetically modified foods as safe to eat as any other food, stating "there is no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified foods".
The European Commission
Europe is extremely anti-GMO. But even there, the scientific community is clear that genetically modified foods are safe. The scientific advisor to the European Comission has said "there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food".
The European Commission's 2010 report on genetically engineered food (based on independent research not funded by any biotech company) said: "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies."
Royal Society of Medicine
England's top medical society, the equivalent of the United State's American Medical Association, published a review of all the information about genetically modified foods that concluded, “Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA.”
The French Supreme Court
The French Supreme Court isn't a scientific body, but I mention them here because their recent decision was so remarkable. France is a very anti-GMO country. Yet the French Supreme Court struck down France's GMO ban, ruling that the government had shown no credible evidence of any harm to humans or the environment. You can read about that here.
A Few, Widely Reported, Non-Credible Studies
Thus far there have been several hundred studies on the safety of genetically engineered food. All but a handful have found them completely safe. The only studies that have found that genetically modified foods harm animals (the ones quoted as saying that they cause cancer and infertility) all come from one laboratory, that of Giles Eric Seralini in France.
Yet Seralini's studies have been widely debunked.
And even food advocates find them hard to believe. My fellow guest on MSNBC, food policy advocate (and GMO labeling proponent) Marion Nestle, herself has said that she finds them hard to believe. Marion Nestle writes:
These results are so graphically shocking (see the paper’s photographs), and so discrepant from previous studies (see recent review in the same journal), that they bring out my skeptical tendencies. (Note: Although Séralini is apparently a well known opponent of GMOs, his study—and that of the review—were funded by government or other independent agencies.) … the study is weirdly complicated.
And respectable scientists writing in the journal Nature (the other most respected scientific journal in the world, along with Science) found numerous problems with the GMO-rat-cancer study. Among other things, Seralini (the scientist claiming that GMOs cause cancer) refused to let science journalists see the paper ahead of the press release, have found something that other researchers doing very similar studies have never found, and have refused to share the actual data of their experiments.
A Scientific Consensus
All together, the scientific consensus around the safety of genetically modified foods is as strong as the scientific consensus around climate change. These foods have been studied more than any other, and everything tells us that they're safe.
You can read more about genetically modified foods, agriculture in general, and how to provide food, water, and energy for the planet, while beating climate change, deforestation, and other challenges, in my book The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet.